Henry Wittenberg never wrestled in high school or college and took several years to achieve national prominence, but once he learned the sport his career took off like never before. Coached by City College of New York’s Joe Sapora he placed third in a national tournament as a junior and second as senior.
Early Life and Education
Henry Wittenberg was born and raised in Jersey City. A brilliant student, he captained his school’s Chess Club while also competing on its Swim Team (but struggled with turns). At CCNY he was recruited by Joe Sapora to wrestle and quickly found himself an admirer – placing third at National Collegiate Wrestling Tournament Junior year and becoming second as Senior.
After graduating from CCNY, he joined the NYC police force. During World War II he taught hand-to-hand combat to troops.
Wittenberg participated in eight National AAU Freestyle Championships, winning eight non-consecutive championships for both West Side YMCA and later Police Sports Association. In 1977 he was honored with being inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Henry Wittenberg became an Olympic Champion in freestyle wrestling during 1948 at London and 1952 in Helsinki, winning gold and silver medals respectively. Additionally, he served with distinction as an NYPD officer, receiving five commendations awards as well as coaching the US national team for two decades.
He did not take to professional wrestling like many of his contemporaries and instead always competed as an amateur, an advantage which kept him fresh for long bouts. He competed in eight National AAU freestyle tournaments and won all eight.
Wittenberg was among the pioneers of weight training, much against his coaches at Columbia and Oklahoma State Universities. He ran up and down Lewisohn Stadium’s stairs while leaping over seats to strengthen his legs while lifting heavy weights.
Achievement and Honors
Wittenberg excelled as both a swimmer and chess player during high school, captaining its chess team before discovering wrestling as a passion in college – becoming undefeated for over 300 matches and later winning two Olympic medals!
Wittenberg entered the 1948 Olympics weighing 191.5 pounds and made it all the way through to the final match, even though he tore muscle tendons in his chest during semifinals. Although his coach urged him not to continue, Wittenberg insisted on competing despite pain – ultimately winning gold! Upon his return home to The Bronx he received an enormous reception as an hero.
He earned a master’s degree from Columbia Teachers College and later worked as a physical education teacher, coaching wrestling at both Columbia City New York (CCNY) and Yeshiva University – thus garnering him inductions into both the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and New York Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Wittenberg became a two-time Olympic Champion in freestyle wrestling for America since 1908 and held an unbroken streak of over 13 years unbeaten matches. Additionally he won eight national Amateur Athletic Union championships.
Wittenberg also served as coach at Yeshiva University and City College of New York, coaching wrestlers there as well. Additionally, his best-selling book on isometric exercises has gone through five printings!
Wittenberg was an active member of Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek and participated on various committees and boards there. Together with his wife Mary Ann Staffieri he raised three children; Max of Truckee; Lucia in Washington D.C.; and Ethan who lived in Oakland. Wittenberg remained engaged with his community and made significant donations both secularly and religiosly throughout his lifetime.
Henry Wittenberg is estimated to be worth in the millions. As an author, teacher, and religious leader for American Jews. Additionally, Henry is well known for his contribution to wrestling: coaching the collegiate-level wrestlers at Yeshiva University and City College of New York for two decades as well as leading an American Greco-Roman wrestling team at Maccabiah Games.
Wittenberg also wrote and sold five editions of his best-selling book on isometric exercises, which has gone through five printings. Additionally, he served with the New York City Department of Public Safety.
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